Mary Lou Jepsen On Wasting the Children of the World
Mary Lou Jepsen was recently named one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in May 2008 for her work in creating Pixel Qi, and her previous work in creating One Laptop per Child where she was the founding chief technology officer and its first employee. Notably Mary Lou invented the laptop's sunlight-readable display technology and co-invented its ultra-low-power management system. Critically, she architected the XO laptop and transformed it into mass production. Mary Lou's earlier contributions have had world-wide adoptioin in successful HDTV, projector and head-mounted display products. In 1995 she co-founded the Microdisplay Corporation and served as its chief technology officer through 2003. Until the end of 2004, she was a group executive and the chief technology officer of the display division at Intel Corporation. Mary Lou holds a Ph.D. in Optical Sciences, a B.S. in Electrical Engineering (with honors) and a B.A. (req.) in Studio Art all from Brown University as well as a Master of Science in Holography from the MIT Media Lab.
Jepsen: Right now about half the children in the world don’t get what we would consider at all an education. If they’re lucky they get two and a half hours a day in class from age six to age 12 where they learn how to sing, memorize, and exercise. That’s if they get to go to school. We can do so much more. Part of learning is asking the question why? Having a laptop where you can do a Google search and ask why, it doesn’t have to be Google, it could be any web browser or any search engine but, a) they get the computers. They learn how to read. There’s lots of studies done in lots of countries where kid plus computer, six months, no human intervention other than that, the child learns how to read so that’s a great start, amazing, because it’s interactive. We’re dealing in situations like in Peru where certain pilots have been completed over the last six months. Peru bought like 400,000 laptops and Peru was ranked, the World Economic Forum did a study of primary education in the developing world. One hundred and thirty-one countries participated and Peru came in 131st and they thought, well, there’s more than 200 countries in the world and at least we have a baseline and we’re going to do something about it. So what they looked at was, one thing was reading comprehension scores and in primary schools in Peru 15 percent of kids are reading at grade level. Everybody else is below that, only 15 percent. So we went into a couple schools where zero percent of the children were reading at grade level. Six months with the laptop and 30 percent of those children are reading at grade level and a lot of them are pretty close to grade level just with a laptop, so reading is the first step but really part of learning is sort of imagining a different role for yourself than you’ve imagined before. These children in the case of-- I got the eye patches on maybe because I got an infection when I was helping with deployment in Peru recently. These places don’t have clean water, thus the infection. They don’t have electricity. They don’t have roads oftentimes. They’re really remote places and so it’s not just the children but the whole village thinks of themselves, their world is the village and they might have some TV intermittently but they think of that as a fairytale, like their life is this village and their prospects for what they do with their lives are whatever the thing of the village is, usually farming. And so all of a sudden the parents are saying, “Let’s try school again now that we’ve got the laptops” and they see their kids are learning how to read and getting on the web and getting information. The children and the whole village see themselves as part of this bigger world in a way that they haven’t before and see much different possibilities for what they can become, what they can do, and how they can participate.
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